Sunday, May 03, 2015

What's it like at a Hollywood screening?

Going to Hollywood advance screenings can be really cool… or really awful.

On the one hand, it’s very exciting. Being invited to a studio screening makes you feel like you’re really “in the biz”. You may not be on the A list but at least you’re on some list. And in Hollywood that’s pretty much all that matters. There was a brief time (real brief) when my partner and I were writing and selling features and were on several studio screening lists. I’d get a letter with the invite and instructions to call Mr. Spielberg’s office to RSVP. Cool! Of course, when I call, I’m automatically connected to voicemail. And when I arrive, half the time there’s a screw-up and I’m not on the list. (But I always bring the invite with me as proof and usually am let in.  And if not, I keep my Emmy in my trunk.)

So what's the experience like? 

Once inside, you feel as special and exclusive as one of 2500 people can. Usually there are celebs sprinkled in. I once sat in the same row as Nicole Kidman!  And this is when she looked amazing!  Generally the popcorn is free. Agents are there and say hello, sometimes even the ones who represent you! You frequently know people who were involved in the making of the movie. (Sometimes I’m envious… but it’s a good envious.)

Then you take your seat and there’s an air of excitement. The lights go off and the movie starts. The print is perfect, the sound is glorious, and you just know you’re in for a thrilling night of cine-magic.

And sometimes you are.

But most times you’re not.

That’s the downside.

Sure, when the screening is for HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 you have a pretty good idea going in that you won’t be blown away, but there have been numerous times when highly anticipated big budget summer tentpole potential blockbusters lay resounding and foul eggs. Then you’re trapped in hell.

It’s hard to slip out without being noticed, so most of the time you just have to suck it up and stay until the end (which is always 45 minutes longer than it has to be). And then there’s that horrible filing out into the lobby afterwards. Usually the filmmakers are there ready to receive you in a greeting line.


The only thing worse then being in that line is being one of the filmmakers receiving that line. When there was a screening of VOLUNTEERS (which, to be fair, was primarily well-received), I was standing next to one of the producers, Walter Parkes. A woman friend of his took both of his hands and said, “Oh, Walter, we love you anyway.”

But by and large it’s those forced compliments that no one believes. I imagine the post-screening of THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2 ANGELS OF DEATH was the very definition of awk-ward!

An actress I know told me that she went to the advance screening of a movie she was in and it was so unspeakably terrible that when the lights came back on the entire cast was crying.

Every so often I’ll be channel-surfing and there will be a movie I saw at a studio screening. It’s 2:00 in the morning and it’s some channel from Oxnard or some cable channel that’s so bad they can’t even scare up an infomercial to fill the time. The print is bad, the sound is muddy, and I think back to the night I originally saw it. The excitement and promise. This movie was going to be the next big thing. And now an animated promo for an exercise show that reruns every morning at 6 takes up 20% of the screen.  Either that or I see the DVD of the movie in a 99 cent bin at Rite-Aid.

They don’t call it the Dream Factory for nothing.

I haven’t been to a big studio advance screening in years. I imagine they’ve changed. I bet people are now texting each other all throughout. I bet the post parties are nowhere near as grandiose. You probably have to pay for popcorn these days. Fancy invites have been replaced by form emails.  Fewer celebrities attend. Getting through the paparazzi is a hassle. Red carpets have been rolled up. And traffic has gotten so bad, especially around Westwood, that more and more agents and publicists are skipping them. They're probably nowhere near as fun or as glamorous as they were even ten short years ago.   So I guess what I’m trying to say is…

Can I get back on the lists?

This is a modified re-post from many years ago.   So things have probably gotten even worse. 


ScottUSF said...

Hi Ken,

I've been streaming MASH and am up to the season when Charles first is added to the cast.

At this point in the run, did the show employ a writer's room or did each set of writers do an episode on their own? Reason I'm asking is that I notice that the writing credits have changed since earlier seasons. You and David are now listed as "story editors" but someone else had the main "written by" credit.

Also, early on when Charles is introduced there seems to be a lot of joking sexual tension between him and Margaret...even if in their own minds. But Margaret really does suck up to his surgery skills. A lot! Was this to make the tie-in back to Frank? And when did the writers decide to abandon?

Oat Willie said...

"Let's not get caught here in the intermission. They'll stone us to death."

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Temptation Island is so 2001.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I remember hearing Jack Lemmon tell the story in an interview of a real stinker he was involved in, I forget which one. The story was that at the end of the screening he asked his best buddy, Walter Matthau, what he thought. Matthau's advice: "Get out of it."


tsvm said...

To the last poster: The movie was probably Alex and the Gypsy.

Anonymous said...


DBenson said...

Question: Was there ever a premiere or test screening that wasn't good or bad but just unreal? As in the gobsmacked audience in the original "Producers"?

Or one where the audience just let go and derisive laughter actually took over?

I've read where the cast of "The Giant Claw", a 50s scifi with a giant bird monster, thought they'd made a decent little thriller until they saw the hilarious DBenspecial effects for the first time in a crowded theater. They joked, but remembered it as hell.

Chris said...

Friday question: I read that the WGA rules prohibit anyone from getting a "producer" credit in television unless they've made a provable contribution to the shooting script.

Is that the case when actors start getting "producer" credits halfway through shows? Do they start spending time in the writer's room?

Johnny Walker said...

It doesn't have to be big movies. I found myself invited to a screening (held in a proper Hollywood screening room on one of the lots, I forget which one) of an acquaintance's indie movie. Such screenings are possibly even more awkward because, even if you manage to sneak out once the movie is over (like we did), you're still going to have to speak to them eventually.

Of course nobody's career is hanging by a thread with an indie production, so that's one things that's better, and even Kubrick's first few films sucked, so you can put into perspective, too.

MikeK.Pa. said...

"And if not, I keep my Emmy in my trunk.)" In a pinch, helps if the jack's not working.

" I once sat in the same row as Nicole Kidman!" She still brings it up at the dinner table with Keith from time to time.

"I haven’t been to a big studio advance screening in years." That will all change after this post. More awkward exchanges in the receiving line are in your near future.

"Can I get back on the lists?" Done. Call Mr. Spielberg's executive assistant's intern's voice mail box, which is always full.

Sidney said...

An entirely unrelated Friday question for you: The MASH community on tumblr has always been a fan of the idea of a bisexual Hawkeye, and recently it was suggested that perhaps the writers intended him to be bisexual but had to keep it subtle due to the era. Personally I think this is highly unlikely, so I thought I'd come straight to the source. So, did you (or anyone else that you knew of) consider Hawkeye to be bisexual?

Anonymous said...

Ken, did you ever attend such a screening expecting to hate the movie, and then being pleasantly surprised? - Arthur

Steve Mc said...

The post show greeting of friends in a bad stage play can be tricky. I just throw my arms open and say, "Let me kiss the star!"

James Van Hise said...

Back when Attack of the Show was on the G4 Channel, and had a pretty high profile because of its youthful cable audience, the two hosts (one of which was Olivia Munn) attended the premiere of the second Transformers film. Within 20 minutes they snuck out, refused to go back in and then revealed that on the air. It didn't matter because the Transformers series are films which are basically review proof, like the 3 Star Wars prequels were.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Sometimes going to an industry screening can sour your impression of a movie you might otherwise enjoy. I was at one in particular in which people around me were mumbling "Oh, Gawd" and rolling their jaded eyes so much, it lowered the film in my eyes, even though it became a critical and box office smash.

When the 1973 musical version of LOST HORIZON was screened for the industry, the vinyl soundtrack album was given to each attendee. That evening after the screening, the street was covered with record albums that many of them Frisbeed onto the pavement.

Doktor Frank Doe said...

I attended a Showtime premiere at the theater at Paramount. The movie was a Sundance winner that Showtime had picked up and was actually pretty good. Wound up dating an actress from it, the Food and desserts were off the charts and although that's the only premiere I've ever attended, I'd have been happy to make a career out of that, just for the after party.